Monday, April 20, 2009

Music Library: Can in the Studio

Can is Stockhausen and funk and VU-style garage-art and psychedelia and jazz and god knows what else. Easily one of the all-time greatest bands in rock music, Can is about the sound of inner space, which is the original name of the band and the name of their homebuilt studio.

Studio Can:

  • Monster Movie. Hear the band struggle against the prevailing sound of garage-psych, seeking to create the motorik-based krautrock we have all come to know and love! The only official studio album from the band's run with Malcolm Mooney on vocals, Monster Movie features three great attempts to create an entirely new approach to rock and "Yoo Doo Right," the first example of the Can aesthetic: monster riffage built around throbbing bass and driving drums, running on for nearly 20 minutes.
  • Soundtracks. This one is a collection of tracks recorded for films between 1968 and 1970. A couple of these tracks feature Mooney on vocals, but most feature their new vocalist, the electrifying Damo Suzuki. The standout tracks are the last two: "Mother Sky," one of the rockingest tracks in Can's ouevre, and "She Brings The Rain," a more meditative and jazzy track.
  • Tago Mago. Oh my, yes yes. This album starts in a paper house on fire and then the world goes up in a huge mushroom cloud. And that's only the first 10 or so minutes. Then there's the cheerful/wistful "Oh Yeah" and the most monsterous of monstrous bass riffs "Halleluwah." And that's just the first disc. Disc two has "Aumgn," which never fails to give me the creeps, "Peking O," which is extradimensionally bizarre, like funk for centipedes or something, and "Bring Me Coffee Or Tea," which provides a lovely little coda to the album. I've found that this album is particularly well-suited to provide the soundtrack to Murnau's Nosferatu.
  • Ege Bamyasi. The title means "Aegean Okra" in Turkish. This is Can's most accessible album from their high period, featuring a higher ratio of short, catchy songs to noisy, experimental sonic soundscapes. If you don't know if Can is for you, this album should be your litmus test. What's good on this album? Everything. "Vitamin C" and "Spoon" are probably my favorite individual Can tracks, but the way they work with the album as a whole is a revelation.
  • Spoon 7". "Spoon" is the single, but the b-side is "Shikako Maru Ten," which sounds like what it is: an outtake from Ege Bamyasi.
  • Future Days. This is Damo Suzuki's final album with Can, and a beautiful example of how the Can aesthetic could incorporate the appeal of their catchy, hook-laden singles with the more experimental noise-and-funk and meld it all into a four-song, 41-minutes magnum opus that seems to be about the sound and texture of water, wrapped in an allegory about time. Some of the music on this is so utterly gorgeous that it's hard to believe it was made by mere humans. The water analogy is particularly apt, as much of the music has a surface tranquility that is belied by the constant churn of Jaki Liebzeit's motorik drumming and Holger Czukay's pulsating bass.
  • Soon Over Babaluma. With Damo Suzuki gone, guitarist (and violinist, at least on this album) Michael Karoli and keyboardist Irmin Schmidt took over the vocals. This is the last great Can album, sadly. After this, the band's pop impulses took them to some ugly places. Their commitment to inner space begat a commitment to superficial dance music with radio transmissions. But this album sees The Can working their magic all the way through, and god bless 'em for that.
  • Landed. This is the last Can album I can bring myself to pick up. "Vernal Equinox" and "Unfinished" are the standouts, but after listening to the greatness of their prior albums, Landed sounds even more insubstantial than usual. It's not terrible, though. Just half-assed. I generally enjoy the tracks when they pop up on the ipod, so I think they sound better out of the context of the greatness of prior Can. But MAN, "Vernal Equinox" is one of those tracks like Elvis Costello's "Last of the Lipstick Vogue," where you can hardly believe that a rhythm section could play that fast and accurately and still rock like crazy.
  • Delay 1968. Some leftover tracks with Mooney intended to be their first album Prepared To Meet Thy PNOOM. Apparently this was rejected by a few record companies, which led the band to work on the tracks that would become Monster Movie. This is definitely on the more psych-garage side of things, so hooray for the record companies for pushing Can to do better. That said, it's an interesting document of where Can was coming from.
  • Can Box Music. This is an album from the Can Box with examples of Can's fascinating live improvisational style. You know what? I'm going to be discussing Live Can in the next Music Library post. I'm going to hold off on this until then.


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